Optimizing your organic search traffic is a critical task for any site owner so anything you can do to make it easier for search engines to find your content should be high on your priority list.
Maintaining well-organized sitemaps is one of the simplest ways of ensuring your content (both new and old) can be easily found. Google actively encourages sitemap submission and a range of online tools means it’s never been easier to set your sitemaps up quickly without needing too much technical knowledge.
In this article, we’ll look at handling sitemap generation in WordPress and take you through our picks for the seven best sitemap plugins out there. We’ve broken these into three distinct categories to make things a little simpler.
Before we hit the list, though, let’s get some basics out of the way.
An Introduction to Sitemaps
If you’re coming to the subject of sitemaps for the first time, their value might not be immediately obvious. Originally introduced in 2005 by Google – and supported by Microsoft and Yahoo shortly thereafter – sitemaps play a huge role in helping search engines crawl a website in its entirety and thus index the content better.
The basic idea is simple. Ideally, a website’s sitemap should contain all the page URLs of your site along with associated data such as the date content was last modified, how frequently the content changes, and whether a particular URL should be given priority over other content. Sitemaps can be created for each type of content available on a site such as blog posts, images, videos and so on.
Google is powerful enough these days to get to the majority of your content eventually on its own but maintaining well-organized sitemaps makes it that much easier and quicker for search engines to index all of your content – and notify them when it changes – so it’s a step well worth taking.
The simplest possible sitemap is an XML document listing all the URLs to be crawled. You could, of course, create this by hand but it’s a job best left to automated tooling and that’s what we’ll be looking at for the remainder of the article.
If you’re looking to dive a little deeper into the technicalities behind sitemaps, check out the official Google sitemap pages, our own previous article on the importance of sitemaps, or the sitemap protocol documentation itself.
We’ve split our selection of plugins into three broad categories to keep things simple. Let’s start with the sitemap functionality offered by a number of popular SEO plugins.
SEO Plugins with Sitemaps
Given the importance of sitemaps in the indexing of a site by search engines, it’s no surprise that the most popular SEO plugins for WordPress tend to include the ability to automatically generate sitemaps.
1. Yoast SEO
With over one million active installs and an overall 4.5 star satisfaction rating, Yoast SEO continues to be one of the most popular SEO plugins in the WordPress ecosystem and made the cut for our 14 best WordPress plugins for 2015.
Based on years of in-depth SEO research from Joost de Valk and his team, the Yoast SEO plugin puts you in the driving seat in terms of WordPress SEO and includes some of the most advanced XML sitemap functionality of any WordPress plugin.
Creating XML sitemaps automatically with this plugin couldn’t be easier, it’s a simple matter of checking a box. Additionally, the plugin can notify both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools of sitemap changes so they are easily found (you’ll need to register with these services to enable this obviously).
With no extra work on your part, Yoast SEO can also include images from your posts and pages in the sitemap, helping your visual content to also rank highly in search engines. You’ve also got options for controlling how categories, tags and other taxonomies are handled.
If you run a Multisite network, you’ll be happy to know that the Yoast SEO sitemaps feature also works smoothly in this context. You can even copy sitemap settings from one site to another, or have new sites default to the settings of a specified site.
Developers of larger sites can rest easy knowing that their needs will be covered as well. Yoast SEO uses the sitemap index feature of the sitemap protocol to create a sitemap for each 1,000 URLs, thus elegantly sidestepping the maximum sitemap size of 50,000 URLs issue.
Yoast SEO also comes in a premium version which includes handy extensions to consider if your website has additional content types that you want to be indexed. Premium extensions such News SEO, Local SEO and Video SEO enable you to create additional dedicated sitemaps to help your rich content be displayed more accurately in search engine results.
XML sitemaps often need debugging and tweaking to ensure the correct results are being crawled by search engines. Recognizing this need, the Yoast SEO plugin comes with XSL stylesheets for XML Sitemaps to help you easily manually review for errors and missing data.
All in all, it’s hard to fault Yoast SEO for either its general SEO options or its sitemap features. The only real risk with this plugin is that it may be a little overwhelming for less technical users.
Another very popular option for general SEO purposes, the All in One SEO Pack also has over one million installs with a solid overall 4.4 star satisfaction rating.
Though somewhat simpler in its implementation, and a little less fully featured, this plugin is a solid competitor to Yoast SEO and stood up well in our recent comparison of the two plugins.
Much like Yoast SEO, an XML sitemap generator is just one of a wide range of features All in One SEO Pack brings to the table. As with Yoast’s offering, the creation of the XML sitemap is automatic and invisible to the user, as are the notifications sent to both Google and Bing. However, All in One SEO Pack does include some useful settings worth mentioning when it comes to sitemap customization.
A series of checkboxes on the main settings page of the All in One SEO plugin enable you to include or exclude not just post types and taxonomies, but also categories, date archives, and author pages. The plugin also enables you to set the priority and update frequency of posts, taxonomies, and the website’s front page. You can also easily include non-WordPress pages in your sitemap by adding URLs to a list from the back end.
More and more plugins these days offer premium versions and All in One SEO Pack is no different. Amongst other features, the All in One SEO Pro version adds support for video XML vitemaps, enabling your videos to display with thumbnails and a snippet of text content in search results.
The All in One SEO Pack plugin is extremely simple to use and flexible in terms of its configuration. It’s a great choice for smaller sites with less technical developers or site owners.
Given the availability and widespread use of the two previous plugins – both free and providing excellent value with their premium versions – it’s not surprising that the number of sales of this next plugin only number in the thousands.
Premium SEO Pack is a relatively new entrant to the SEO plugin market but is already maintaining a solid average satisfaction rating of 4.25 stars.
As with our previous selections, Premium SEO Pack offers a wide range of features to help optimize your overall SEO, of which XML Sitemaps are one. The plugin generates sitemaps for posts and pages automatically and also handles images, custom post types, and custom taxonomies. Settings are available to exclude specific content, including options to exclude by category and post type.
Premium SEO also includes modules to handle local content and video sitemaps in its base price. Like Yoast SEO, Premium SEO Pack uses the sitemap index option to generate files for larger sites. You can also enable XSL stylesheets to make the sitemaps more human-readable.
For the budget-conscious developer or site owner who is interested in premium features like video sitemaps, it may well be worth checking out Premium SEO pack.
Dedicated Sitemap Plugins
If you’re currently using one of the SEO plugins described above, you’re most likely already comprehensively covered for your sitemap needs. If you’re still lacking automated sitemap functionality, however, you should consider adding a dedicated sitemap plugin to your site to solve that critical piece of the SEO puzzle.
The Google Sitemap plugin has been knocking around for nearly five years and is a stable and mature sitemap generation option. The plugin does exactly what its description says and enables you to easily create a sitemap file and add it to Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools).
The plugin has been downloaded over a million times and reports over one hundred thousand active installs with an overall satisfaction rating of 4.3 stars.
You’re able to select which post types and taxonomies to include in the sitemap from the fairly limited amount of settings made available to you. Custom post types can be included via a simple hierarchical checklist for selection under the plugin’s Extra Settings page. Once you authenticate with your Google account, you can select to add the sitemap to Google Search Console or delete it.
As with Yoast SEO and All in One SEO Pack, a premium version of the plugin is also available. By purchasing the Google Sitemap Pro version, you gain the ability to exclude specific pages and posts from the sitemap file and can specify the frequency of sitemap updates. The pro version also adds Multisite compatibility and provides premium support options.
The Google Sitemap plugin is a simple, no-fuss way to add sitemap functionality to your site if that’s all you need.
With an overall rating of 4.1 stars and over 100,000 active installs, Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps is a popular alternative to the Google Sitemap plugin but includes more advanced functionality.
The basic settings enable you to select which sitemaps you want to generate, including taxonomies (custom or otherwise), date archives, author archives and external pages. Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps is also Multisite-compatible by default.
The plugin also has built-in functionality for creating sitemaps to submit to Google News. You can choose to include or exclude posts in certain categories in this sitemap, assign specific categories to predefined genres from Google News guidelines, and map categories to Google News’ suggested keywords.
Where this plugin really stands out is in the flexibility of its customization options. Filters can be added to customize the SQL queries used to build the sitemaps, excluding specific posts or terms for example. Custom XSL stylesheets can also be added to improve the display of sitemaps. Developers can take things even further by creating custom modules to define custom sitemaps using a powerful module API.
Better WordPpress Google XML Sitemaps is a very fast and flexible plugin that’s a great fit for developers looking to really take charge of their sitemap generation. Image and video sitemaps are unfortunately not available in the current version but are scheduled for an upcoming release.
6. XML Sitemaps (Free)
Produced by the same people responsible for the Semiologic SEO plugin, XML Sitemaps is a lightweight but powerful option for automatically generating sitemaps and notifying search engines when they’re updated.
Simple configuration options are provided to include or exclude date archives (for specific years and months), authors, categories and tags in the sitemap generated. Specific pages can also be excluded by ID. This plugin is one of the few which provides cached sitemaps (in the wp-content/sitemaps folder) and uses a rewrite rule to direct search engines.
Where this plugin differentiates itself is in its use of actual website data to assign the frequency of updates and the weight of URLs. Additionally, the plugin determines the number of blog, category and tag pages on your site so that the sitemap works well with custom query strings or other plugins – like Semiologic SEO, for example – which also use that information.
Image Sitemap Plugin
Some of the plugins described above include options for non-standard sitemaps such as images or videos either by default or as a paid extension. If you’re using a plugin which doesn’t provide that functionality – or if you have a site that primarily consists of image or video posts – you might want to consider a specialized solution like our final pick.
The Udinra All Image Sitemap plugin is a recent arrival on the WordPress scene but, with over ten thousand active installs and an overall 4.8 satisfaction rating, it’s clearly already filling a real need for site owners.
The basic functionality of the plugin lies in creating an XML sitemap for images on your website and automatically notifying Google, Bing and Ask.com of their whereabouts. Doing this helps ensure your website ranks well in the image search results of these search engines and image SEO optimization is not something you should ignore.
The plugin automatically updates sitemaps when posts and pages with images are published and you also have the option of making this happen on a set schedule. Images mapped will include featured images (not strictly speaking part of post content) and the image sitemap generated includes the image title, location, and caption all formatted to match Google’s image sitemap standards.
Udinra All Image Sitemap stands out for its overall speed. The interface is simple and easy to zip around in, while all database queries and code have been optimized to reduce server resource usage and overall load. Sitemap generation also produces a gzipped version of the image sitemap which keeps things manageable even if the site includes thousands of image URLs.
A Pro version of the Udinra All Image Sitemap plugin is available if you want to step things up a notch. The Udinra Image Sitemap Pro further improves image SEO by automatically generating image alt text. The plugin will also scan post content for images added directly by image tag instead of attached to posts or pages via the WordPress Media Upload. The Pro version of the plugin also enables large site support through the use of sitemap index files.
The Pro version includes support for NextGEN Gallery – the most widely used WordPress gallery plugin – and detects images and galleries including those added by shortcode. The premium version also integrates nicely with e-commerce plugins like WooCommerce, WP eCommerce, and Easy Digital Downloads to prioritize product images.
If your website is especially image-intensive, this plugin is definitely worth considering.
Selecting the Right WordPress Sitemap Plugin
Choosing the right WordPress sitemap plugin is a crucial step in optimizing your website for search engines. As we’ve outlined above, the best one for your site will depend on what else you’re using for SEO and the specific type of functionality you want. Other key factors to consider are the size of your site and how critical non-text content is to your strategy.
If you just want one solution for your SEO and sitemap needs, both Yoast SEO and the All in One SEO Pack are solid choices, with the latter being a better option for less technical users. Premium SEO Pack is a good fit if video sitemap generation is a priority and you don’t mind paying for all the basic functionality.
If you are looking for a sitemap-only plugin, both Google Sitemap and XML Sitemaps are simple starter solutions. For more advanced customization options, Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps is the obvious choice.
Finally, if images are a huge priority for your site (with e-commerce or image gallery functionality a big factor), Udinra All Image Sitemap is the tool to turn to.
Sitemaps are a classic example of the amount of time and effort plugins save busy site owners on a daily basis. Both in terms of initial sitemap setup and ongoing updating, using a plugin to handle sitemap generation in WordPress is an absolute no-brainer.
Anything that helps search engines index your sites more effectively is very much to be desired and the more the process can be automated, the better. Every site is different of course so we’ve outlined a range of solutions above that we hope will hit the sweet spot for potentially every use case.
Just a few decades ago, if you needed to find a local business, you’d probably open up the phone book. These days, you’re almost certain to turn online.
There are two major consequences of our changing behaviors:
- The slow death of the phone book industry.
- The fundamental importance of a business’s website to its overall success.
Today, of course, we’re going to be focusing on the latter.
If you own a business, your website is, more often than not, the place your customers will find out about you – who you are, how to find you, the services/products you offer. As such, you could argue that your website is one of the most important aspects of your business to get right.
But what does a business website need? What functionalities should it support?
If you want to know the answer to these questions, read on! Today, I’m going to introduce you to 16 WordPress plugins for business websites.
To avoid listing too many similar plugins, I’ve decided to focus on one plugin for each functionality, which means I’ll be providing the full spectrum of business website functionalities.
The plugins I’ve picked are all targeted at businesses with an offline presence, but many of them will be equally applicable to online businesses and even bloggers. With this in mind, there should be something for all WordPress users listed here.
Sound good? Then let’s get started.
SEO: SEO by Yoast (FREE)
Looking to enhance your search engine rankings to attract more visitors? It all starts with on-site optimization.
I strongly recommend that all WordPress websites install an all-in-one SEO plugin. My personal choice would be WordPress SEO by Yoast – and with over 19.5 million downloads, there’s a lot of WordPress users in agreement.
The plugin allows you to work through a pre-configured SEO checklist to ensure you’re fulfilling all SEO best practices. Included in the plugin’s impressive list of features is custom meta descriptions, XML sitemap creation, and RSS optimization.
As Dan stated in his recent post on boosting eCommerce conversions, to boost total conversions you need to find new visitors or increase your conversion rate. Well, SEO by Yoast focuses on the former, attracting the new visitors you need to boost overall conversions and your business’s bottom line. Not bad for a free plugin, huh?
Local SEO, Maps, and Schema Markup: Yoast Local SEO (from $69)
If you have an offline, brick-and-mortar presence, the SEO rules are slightly different. Certain businesses will only have a local reach, so it’s fundamentally important that your website appears for local searchers.
Type “hairdressers” into Google to see what I mean. The top results will not be international or even national, but businesses local to you. All of this happens automatically, reflecting the needs of the searcher.
If you want your business featured in local searches, I recommend another Yoast SEO plugin: Local SEO.
As well as this, Local SEO allows you to add your company’s address and opening hours onto your contact page. The plugin will convert this information into the relevant Schema.org markup, allowing Google to display this information as a rich snippet alongside your search result.
You can also use Local SEO to add Google Maps to your website, which saves you the trouble of installing a dedicated Google Maps plugin.
If you run a local business, don’t underestimate the importance of targeting local search results — consider the plugin’s $69 price tag to be an investment.
Speed: WP Rocket (from $39)
The speed of your website impacts user experience and also where you rank in the SERPs – Google consistently re-iterates that speed is a ranking factor. As such, I strongly recommend that you take website speed seriously. After all, do you really want your brand associated with a sluggish website?
There are loads of plugins that target different elements of a website’s speed. If you want an all-in-one solution, however, WP Rocket is a great option.
WP Rocket can reel off a long list of features, including:
- Page caching
- Browser caching
- GZIP compression
- Image optimization
- Seamless integration with CDNs, including free solutions like CloudFlare
That means that all the important speed optimization functionality your business website needs is fully supported. Remember: fast website = happy customers.
Social Media: Monarch Social Media Sharing (Elegant Theme Membership)
The search engines aren’t the only way for people to find you. If you publish compelling content and your customers love what you do, you can attract a lot of traffic via the social channels.
This requires a social media plugin, of course. I know I’m biased, but, even objectively speaking, Elegant Theme’s Monarch plugin is one of the very best social media plugins available.
Monarch allows you to add colorful, stylish social sharing buttons to your website. You can add the sharing buttons in five different locations, plus there’s an impressive 20+ social networks supported so that you can target all the main social channels.
The plugin has minimal impact on load times, plus you can monitor your social sharing figures via the comprehensive dashboard statistics.
Page Builder: Visual Composer ($33)
Many potential customers will get their first impression of your business from your website. With this in mind, you need a website that looks stunning, is memorable, and reflects all of your core values. And, despite thousands of WordPress themes in existence, does any theme really encapsulate all of your business’s ideals? I doubt it.
If you want the flexibility to build your perfect business website, you have three options:
- Hire a developer to make custom changes
- Use a multi-purpose theme
- Install a page builder plugin
As we’re focusing on plugins today, I’m going to be taking a look at the latter. And, with almost 80,000 sales (making it CodeCanyon’s best-selling plugin of all time), I’m going to recommend Visual Composer.
Visual Composer allows you to construct beautiful custom layouts with either the front- or back-end editor. There are 40+ predefined layouts and 45+ content elements to choose from, giving you the flexibility you need to add the aesthetics and functionality your pages need. As a result of its popularity, there are many third-party Visual Composer extensions available, allowing you to add even more content elements.
Security: iThemes Security Pro (from $80)
If you want your website to grow and thrive, you need to defend it from the most common security vulnerabilities.
Perhaps website security lacks the glamour of some of the other functionalities featured today, but it’s arguably the most important of all. This is especially true for business websites, as security breaches reflect badly on your brand.
iThemes Security Pro helps protect your website from the most common security breach: brute force attacks. This is achieved by enforcing strong passwords, hiding your login page, and also restricting the number of failed login attempts.
You can also use the plugin to lock out bad users, notify you of any file changes, and lock your WordPress admin area during hours you know you won’t be using it.
Back-up: VaultPress (from $5/month)
A broken website – or, worse still, a crashed website – is not the best first impression, is it?
When things go wrong, having a back-up of your website will prove invaluable – and things can go wrong, even with an excellent security plugin installed. Back-up plugins allow you to restore your website to its former glory in a matter of minutes.
There are lots of great options out there, but my advice would be to go with a name you can trust – in this case, Automattic’s VaultPress service. At least then, if bad luck strikes, you know you’re protected.
List Building: Bloom Email Opt-ins (Elegant Theme Membership)
Now that we’ve covered security, SEO, and speed, let’s start looking at how you can drive more customers for your business.
Around since the internet’s earliest days, email marketing has stood the test of time and remains one of the most effective ways to make money. I’m guessing you want your business to make money, right? Then you need to start collecting emails and building an email list.
To grow your list in the most efficient manner possible, we need to turn to another plugin in the Elegant collection: Bloom.
Integrating with twelve email marketing services, Bloom allows you to collect email addresses from interested parties using six opt-in form types:
- In content
- Below content
- Widget area
- Content locker
Pop-ups are proven to be the most effective at generating conversions as they command maximum attention from visitors. They’re known for being intrusive, however, and so Bloom lets you pick the perfect time to display your pop-up opt-in forms – time delayed, scroll delayed, after inactivity, after commenting, and after purchasing.
Email Newsletter: MyMail ($39)
After securing a subscriber, the really hard work begins: converting someone with some interest into a paying customer.
Your success will be determined by the quality of the emails you send out. And, in my opinion, aesthetics is a component of quality, so you’d better make sure your emails look good.
If you want to craft stylish newsletters in WordPress, you need the MyMail plugin, available for $39 from CodeCanyon.
You can use the plugin to build beautiful, custom newsletter layouts courtesy of the intuitive drag-and-drop interface. The plugin also tracks all your important email metrics.
Contact Forms: Contact Form 7 (FREE)
Of course, if you want to run a successful business, you’re going to want an easy way for your potential customers to get in touch.
For this, you need a contact form plugin. I’ve suggested a lot of premium plugins so far, so how about a free one? The classic and ever-popular Contact Form 7.
Contact Form 7 is intuitive to setup, allowing you to build an unlimited number of forms. You can also add advanced fields to your form, including drop-down menus, dates, and CAPTCHAs.
Live Chat: Pure Chat (from FREE)
Customer service is an afterthought for many business owners, but it’s something that’s deeply important to your customers – if anything goes wrong, it’s likely the quality of your customer service that resolves the problem.
If you want to offer enhanced customer service on your website, adding a live chat functionality to your website is a great place to start – it’s the quickest way to get a response, after all.
If your business is large enough to justify it, live chat is a must. Not only does it offer the aforementioned reputation-enhancing customer service, you can also use the live chat to answer any pre-sales questions and nullify buyer objections.
We’ve talked about live chat in great detail already, so allow me to recommend my preferred plugin, Pure Chat. The plugin allows you to extensively customize your live chat windows’ appearance on your website, plus you can handle all live chat conversations from the stylish Pure Chat interface.
First Impressions: Video Intro for WordPress ($16)
Now for something a little bit different.
Online users decide within a matter of seconds whether a website is right for them. In other words, first impressions matter. A lot.
The Video Intro for WordPress plugin allows you to greet visitors with a full-screen video. If you’ve spent a lot of money on an engaging video advertisement for your business, this is the perfect time to show it. Visitors are redirected to your homepage upon completion of the video, or they can get there more quickly by skipping it.
You can customize the frame around the video to match your branding, and also display your logo prominently at the top of the screen.
Maintenance Mode: Anticipate (Elegant Theme Membership)
If you run a business, professionalism is king. Everything you do will shape how your business is perceived, and so you have to put your best foot forward at all times.
One example of this is when you’re updating your website – something we all have to do from time to time. Now, a site full of work-in-progress, placeholder text, and broken elements is hardly going to impress visitors, is it? If someone visits your website during this time, your business is going to look more than a little amateurish.
So what’s the solution? Well, it’s relatively simple: display a maintenance mode landing page. It’s not ideal, but it’s a huge improvement on a half-finished website.
If you want to add a maintenance mode screen, I recommend Elegant’s Anticipate plugin. Simply activate maintenance mode and your visitors will see a simple, stylish maintenance mode page. This gives you the opportunity to work on your website in private.
Broken Links: Redirection (FREE)
Continuing with the theme of professionalism, this time I want to look at broken links.
For visitors, a website littered with 404 errors suggests ineptitude – if you can’t keep your website working, how will you manage to fulfill your customers’ needs?
With this in mind, broken links will turn away your visitors in droves. That’s not something any business can afford to do.
If you want to keep your website running smoothly, the free Redirection plugin is one of the best ways to fix 404 errors. This is done by manually configuring 301, 302, and 307 redirects to point visitors to the right place.
Not all 404 errors are your fault, though: some are caused by mistyped external links. Redirection will automatically monitor for fresh 404 errors, allowing you to quickly resolve any problems.
Editorial Calendar: CoSchedule (from $17/month)
Content marketing is a great way to grow your business. Not only does publishing great content help you gain visibility in the search engines, it also reinforces your expertise within your industry, and this in turn will attract more customers.
Publishing great content is a labor-intensive and time-consuming job, however. If you need a helping hand, look no further than CoSchedule, an all-in-one content marketer’s dream.
CoSchedule supports its own editorial calendar functionality, allowing you to use drag-and-drop to reschedule your posts. Beyond this, it can also be used for scheduling social media posts – sync CoSchedule up with your social media profiles, and you can write and schedule social posts from within the WordPress admin.
Want more? You can also use CoSchedule to collaborate with other team members, schedule social shares for your recently published content, and also to give your older posts a push.
Boost Conversions: WordPress Calls to Action (FREE)
So you’ve put together a beautiful website. It’s fully functional, lightning quick, and it attracts hordes of visitors.
You’re heading in the right direction, but now you need to get your visitors to pull out their wallets and become paying customers.
What you need is a call to action (CTA). A compelling CTA encourages visitors to perform a desired action – perhaps making a purchase, giving you a call, or subscribing to your email list. An effective CTA eliminates indecisiveness by telling your visitors exactly what they should do, and this has been proven to boost conversions.
WordPress Calls to Action is a fantastic free plugin that allows you to do just that. The plugin lets you create pop-ups and widget boxes that encourage visitors to take your desired action – and as you can add custom text to the boxes, this “action” can be anything you want.
To help get you started, the plugin includes a number of pre-configured templates, plus you can continuously improve results with built-in A/B functionality.
By considering all the plugins featured in today’s list, you should be able to give your business website all the functionality it needs to satisfy customers and stand above the competition.
I’ve deliberately avoided plugins used to directly monetize a website — eCommerce, booking taking, and invoicing plugins — as these plugins are dependent on the nature of your business. Instead, I’ve included general plugins that are applicable for all businesses. In today’s post we’ve covered:
- attracting new clients
- speeding up your site
- boosting conversions
- improving customer service
- growing an email list
- creating a great first impression
- developing a content schedule
Of course, this is just a work in progress, and now I need your help. What other WordPress plugins do you think are essential for business websites? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
With over thirty thousand WordPress plugins listed in the official WordPress plugin directory alone, it is no surprise that WordPress users are a little unsure about what plugins they should be using. There are just so many to choose from; which explains why there are so many plugin top lists online.
Most plugin lists focus on which plugins are the best, though the plugins which are listed as the best usually have the most features. Today, I would like to share with you a collection of plugins that are not necessarily The Best. This is more of a collection of what could be considered essential plugins, and not plugins that offer the most features.
For the most part, these plugins address issues that are inherent in the core version of WordPress.
Everyone uses WordPress in different ways. That is why the developers of WordPress have made the core version of their platform so lightweight. This allows users to add features and customize WordPress in their own way using plugins.
However, I do feel that there are a lot of ways in which the core version of WordPress can be improved. The following plugins add functionality that I feel is missing from WordPress.
If you use WordPress to develop blogs, you will know that blog posts do not always publish at the times they were scheduled. This problem rears its ugly head every now and then, and unfortunately, WordPress does not email you to let you know that a scheduled post has not been published. You will only see that a post has missed its schedule publication time when you log in and see an error about the post missing its schedule.
One way to fix this problem is to install the aptly named WP Missed Schedule Fix Failed Future Posts. The plugin creates a cron that searches for scheduled posts that missed publication and then ensures they are published. It works well and does not affect your server’s performance.
Widgets can be used to place content in a variety of places such as your sidebar, header, footer, and home page. By default, a widget will show in a widget zone in all areas of your website. This is not always ideal. You may want widgets to only be displayed on certain areas of your website.
For example, let’s say you have a basic HTML widget that displays at the top of your sidebar. This widget would display a photograph of yourself and an invitation to readers to visit your about page and learn more about you. There would be no need to display this widget on the about page itself. You can therefore stop the widget from being displayed by using conditional tags (i.e. !is_page( ‘about’)). You could also use it to remove advertisements from your member area and remove recent posts from pages.
Scheduling posts in advance is essential if you want to run a successful blog. Sadly, the default post area in WordPress is not practical for doing this.
With Editorial Calendar, I can easily view the upcoming posts for that month. If something urgent comes up that I need to cover, I can simply drag and drop one of the scheduled posts into another day or week. It also lets you quickly edit titles, change content, change scheduled times, and more.
WordPress does not have any built-in functionality for hiding pages. This can be a problem as there are certain pages that you do not want to appear when someone searches your website, searches your archives, or searches your website through a search engine.
PC Hide Pages can be used to hide pages that you do not want indexed. I use it to hide the “Thanks for Subscribing” message that is shown to new newsletter subscribers. I also use it to hide my eBook download page so that it is not indexed by Google.
WordPress does not allow you to modify existing user roles and capabilities. This means that you cannot allow contributors to upload images to posts or allow authors to publish pages. It greatly limits what you can do with WordPress.
User Role Editor is a fantastic plugin that I looked at closely in January. It gives you complete control over what users can see and do. It also lets you create custom user groups. This is very useful if you have have a lot of authors or members.Members offers the same functionality as User Role Editor. The plugin can also be used to create a member website as it allows you to restrict content.
WordPress is not known for having great search functionality. Results are frequently irrelevant and out of date; which makes it difficult for readers to find the articles they are searching for.
In my article “Replace The Default WordPress Search Engine With Something Better“, I looked at ten solutions that you can use to replace WordPress’s default search functionality. Relevanssi is arguably the best solution available.
The plugin ensures search results are ordered by relevance and offers many great features for visitors such as highlighting search terms, searching through comments, and searching with phrases. It is an effective way of resolving the limitations of WordPress’s limited search functionality.
Spam & Security
Two battles that all WordPress users need to contend with on a daily basis are spam and website security. Even if your website has low traffic, you will still face spambots and hackers.
Protecting your website is not something that you can afford to be complacent about, therefore I recommend being proactive and strengthening your security from day one.
Along with the irrelevant Hello Dolly, Akismet is the only plugin that comes packaged with every single version of WordPress. It is not a full proof solution for combatting spam, however it will block the majority of spam that your website attracts.
The plugin will check all of your comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam. It sometimes get things wrong, so you need to check your spam folder regularly to be sure that legitimate comments are not being marked as spam (which can frustrate real commenters).
Activating Akismet and configuring your comment settings correctly should eliminate most of the comment spam your website receives.
Unfortunately, it is not always enough. If you find that Akismet is still letting a lot of spam through, you may want to install a plugin such as Better WordPress reCAPTCHA or Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin to make it more difficult for spammers.
Better WordPress reCAPTCHA uses Google’s anti-spam solution reCAPTCHA to display an image that spambots cannot decipher. It integrates with Akismet and Contact Form 7 too. If you do not want to inconvenience your commenters by asking them to complete a reCAPTCHA image, you may want to consider Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin. The plugin will add a checkbox to the comment area that asks them to confirm they are not a spammer. Simple, yet effective.
Accessing your admin area by guessing your administrator username and password remains a popular way for hackers to infiltrate your website. One way to discourage unauthorized users from logging into your website is Login LockDown.
The plugin will block repeated attempts from a given IP range and lock them out for a defined period of time. This will effectively stop hackers from accessing your website with brute force password discovery.
Lockdown WP Admin helps you hide the admin area and the WordPress login page. Anyone who tries to view these pages will be presented with a 404 page error message. It also lets you rename the login URL.
Activating this plugin makes it very difficult for any unauthorized people from accessing your admin area. You will still be able to login yourself using your unique login URL.
Additional Website Security
There are advanced security plugins available for WordPress that can strengthen your website in a number of ways. They can scan files and scan your database for unauthorized injections, address common WordPress vulnerabilities, and monitor your website on a daily basis.
Below is a list of four of the best advanced security plugins for WordPress. To ensure that your website performance is not affected, it is normally best to use only one of these plugins. However, it may be worth activating each one and checking whether the plugin finds a security concern that the others may not. You can then leave one activated to perform security scans on a regular basis.
- Sucuri Security – Sucuri Security is a malware scanner that detects malware, spam injections, website errors, and more. It can prevent phishing attempts, PHP mailing scripts, IP cloaking, malicious iframes and malicious redirects. The plugin can also harden the configuration of your website. It can remove the WordPress version, protect the uploads directory, disable the plugin and theme editor, and restrict access to the wp-contents and wp-includes directories.
- Acunetix WP Security – Acunetix WP Security can address security concerns that are caused in the core version of WordPress, such as the removal of update information for non-admins, disabling of error reporting, and the protection of your admin area.
- iThemes Security – Recently renamed from Better WP Security, iThemes Security can address a lot of common WordPress security vulnerabilities such as renaming the admin account, changing the database prefix from wp_, and changing the user id for admin from 1. It can also monitor your website files for unauthorized changes and enforce strong passwords on all users.
- BulletProof Security – BulletProof Security can protect your website from code injections of XSS, RFI, CRLF, CSRF, Base64, and SQL. It also enhances login security and will monitor your website for security issues. It primarily uses the .htaccess file to harden your website security.
Backing Up WordPress
It is vital that you back up WordPress on a regular basis. Hosting companies tend to keep their backup servers in the same datacenter as their main servers, therefore you need to ensure that you make additional backups yourself.
There are many great backup plugins available for WordPress. Below you will find four of the best:
- VaultPress – VaultPress is a premium backup service from Automattic (the developers of WordPress). From only $5 per month, they will back up your website on a daily basis. The service features one click backups and restores; and you can download backup files at any time. I use VaultPress to backup all my websites as it is cheap, reliable, and only takes a minute to configure. Check out my review of VaultPress for more information about the service.
- BackupBuddy – Developed by iThemes, BackUpBuddy is a premium backup plugin that allows you to back up to Amazon, Dropbox, Rackspace, FTP, and more. Backups and restores are straight forward. The plugin costs a one off fee of $80 for two websites, $100 for ten websites, or $150 for unlimited websites. While I do love VaultPress, there is no getting away from the fact that BackupBuddy is a more cost effective solution in the long term.
- UpdraftPlus – An easy to use free backup solution that has a simple backup and restoration process. It supports backups to Dropbox, Amazon, Rackspace, Google Drive, FTP, email, and more. It has some cool features such as encrypting your database for additional security and the option of splitting large websites into multiple archives.
- WordPress Backup to Dropbox – A free plugin that lets you schedule regular backups to your Dropbox account. It will backup all website files and your website database. A couple of extensions are available for between $9-$19 that offer additional functionality; however the free plugin works well on its own. Unfortunately, it does not have any restore functionality.
Speed & Performance
A slow web page can drive visitors away and hurt your search engine rankings. The following plugins will help you reduce the size of your web pages and make pages load quicker for visitors.
WP-Optimize is a great little plugin that can help reduce the size of your database and make your website run more efficiently by removing post revisions, auto draft posts, and comments, that are older than two weeks.
Optimize Database after Deleting Revisions works in a similar way. I used the plugin to reduce the size of my blog by a whopping 59%.
WP Smush.It utilizes Yahoo’s Smush.it API to optimize your images in a number of ways. It will strip meta data from JPEG images, optimize JPEG compression, convert some GIF images to PNGs, and remove unused colours from indexed images. Be warned, however, that the plugin can put strain on your server CPU when it is optimizing a backlog of images.
Installing a cache plugin will make the biggest difference to your website speed. The two leading cache plugins for WordPress are W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache. They allow you to create static HTML copies of your pages that are displayed to visitors, which drastically reduces the time it takes to load a page.
W3 Total Cache can improve page loading times significantly. Lighter web pages will help improve your search engine rankings and reduce your bandwidth costs.
Search Engine Optimization
Both WordPress SEO by Yoast and All In One SEO Pack will improve your website’s search engine presence.
I recently looked at which plugin was best for SEO. A few Elegant Themes blog readers were unhappy that I did not choose a winner; however the truth is that there is not much between these plugins when it comes to adding essential SEO functionality to your website.
They both allow you to configure meta information for posts, pages, and social media services. They also allow you to create XML sitemaps. WordPress SEO by Yoast has many other tools such as breadcrumbs, RSS editing, and bulk title and description editors. Some of these additional features are included in the premium version of All In One SEO Pack, some are not. Though I believe your decision on which one to use still comes down to which interface you like best.
You will not be disappointed with either plugin as they both add SEO functionality that is missing from the core version of WordPress.Both WordPress SEO and All in One SEO Pack allow you to modify page titles and meta information.
WordPress SEO by Yoast and All In One SEO Pack can be used to create an XML sitemap for your website. However, if you want full control over what is contained with your sitemap, I recommend using Google XML Sitemaps.
The plugin allows you to choose exactly which parts of your website are included in your sitemap. Indexing frequencies and priorities can be specified. It also allows you to add additional pages that were not created using WordPress.Google XML Sitemaps gives you complete control over what is listed in your website sitemap.
More Great Plugins to Consider
My original list of plugins for this article was longer, though many plugins cannot unfortunately be considered as essential. You will, however, find them useful.
Here is a quick look at some great plugins that nearly made the list:
- Contact Form 7 or Gravity Forms – Two of the best plugin solutions available for adding a contact form to your website. They have advanced features such as file uploads, eCommerce integration, and spam protection.
- Subscribe To Comments Reloaded – Allows commenters to be updated of new comments. A fantastic plugin for those of you who are not using an alternative comment system.
- WP-PageNavi – Replaces the older posts and newer posts links with a more user-friendly paging navigational interface.
- Optin Forms – A great way of integrating beautiful newsletter sign up forms into your website.
- Smart Layers – I shared with you all the best social media sharing plugins for WordPress last month. Yet the most common question I receive from Elegant Themes blog readers is ‘What social media plugin is powering the floating bar on Elegant Themes?’. The answer is: Smart Layers by AddThis.
- Google Analytics for WordPress – Allows you to track a lot of additional information on Google Analytics. For example, it can use custom variables to display traffic for authors, posts and pages, specific categories, and more.
- SEO Smart Links – Allows you to automatically link keywords and phrases in your posts and comments to other posts and pages from your website.
- Pretty Link – An essential tool for affiliate marketers. It allows you to mask ugly affiliate URL’s and track the number of clicks to links.
- Jetpack by WordPress.com – A whopping thirty two modules and counting. Jetpack adds a lot of functionality to your website including social media sharing, comments, related posts, and spelling and grammar correcting.
- Types – A tool for managing custom post types, custom taxonomy, and custom fields.
- Comprehensive Google Map Plugin – Let’s you insert Google maps into your website using widgets or shortcodes.
I hope you have enjoyed this list of top WordPress plugins. With tens of thousands of WordPress plugins available online, it can be difficult to curate a list that includes everyone’s favorite essential plugins.